The Beheading of 'Precious Doe'

Girl Unidentified for 4 Years

Composite Sketch of Precious Doe
Police Sketch

On April 28, 2001, the nude, decapitated body of a 3-year-old girl was found near an intersection in Kansas City, Missouri. Two days later her head was found nearby in a plastic garbage bag. It would be more than four years before the girl, given the name "Precious Doe" by police, would be identified as Erica Green.

Sketches, computer drawings and busts of the child were distributed nationwide and on several television crime programs before a relative came forward and identified the victim on May 5, 2005.

Mother, Stepfather Charged in Case

The 'Precious Doe' case had frustrated police for four years and had been featured on several television crime shows, including "America's Most Wanted." 

In the end, police say, it was a tip from a family member that finally helped authorities identify the child and also those responsible for her death. Press reports said a grandfather of one of the principles involved came forward and provided police with photographs of Erica as well as hair samples from the child and the mother.

On May 5, 2005, Michelle M. Johnson, the 30-year-old mother of Erica, and Harrell Johnson, 25, her stepfather, were arrested and charged with murder.

Police said Johnson told them he was under the influence of alcohol and PCP when he became angry with Erica when she refused to go to bed. He kicked her, threw her on the floor, and left her there unconscious. Erica remained on the floor unconscious for two days, because the couple refused to seek medical help because they both had warrants out for their arrest, police said.

After Erica died the Johnsons carried her to a church parking lot, then into a wooded area where the stepfather cut her head off with hedge clippers. Erica's body was found near an intersection and two days later her head was found nearby in a plastic trash bag.

On December 3, 2005, prosecutors announced that they would seek the death penalty in the case against Harrell Johnson. Authorities believed that the child died while Johnson was decapitating her with hedge clippers.

Cousin Sheds Light on the Abuse Suffered by Erica

According to Harrell Johnson's cousin, Lawanda Driskell, The Johnsons moved in with Driskell in April 2001.

Michelle Johnson helped her husband dispose of Erica by placing the dead child in a stroller as if she was asleep. Later, she told Driskell that she had given Erica to another woman to raise. She described Harrell's treatment of Erica as abusive, stating that he beat her for small infractions such as crying or not wanting to eat.

One day she heard a loud bang coming from child's room and for the next two days, Erica was kept in the room. The couple told Driskell that the child was sick. Michelle Johnson then told Driskell that she took Erica to live with the woman who first raised the child.

Michelle Johnson Pleads Guilty 

On September 13, 2007, Michelle Johnson pleaded guilty to second-degree murder of her 3-year-old daughter. In a plea deal, she agreed to testify against her husband, Harrell Johnson, who was charged with first-degree murder. In return, prosecutors agreed to recommend a 25-year-sentence for the mother of the murdered child.

Precious Doe's Mom Testifies Against Husband

Michelle Johnson told the jury that Harrell Johnson was on drugs when he kicked her daughter in the head and the child dropped to the floor unconscious.

"He just picked up his feet and kicked her on the side of the face. I said, `What the (expletive) did you do?' It shook him out of his high," Johnson said.

She said she put the child in a tub of cold water, but she failed to come around. She then put her on the bedroom floor where she stayed for two days before she died. Fearing that she might be arrested on outstanding warrants, Johnson made the decision to not call for medical help.

Guilty Verdict

A Kansas City jury deliberated for about three hours before returning a guilty verdict. Harrell Johnson, 29, was charged with the death and the decapitation of three-year-old Erica Green, the daughter of his then-girlfriend who he married a year later. 

Johnson was also convicted of endangering the welfare of a child and abuse of a child.

During closing arguments, prosecutors told the jury that a guilty verdict would finally bring justice for Erica.

"This selfish coward made the decision to put himself before this 3-year-old child's life," said prosecutor Jim Kanatzar.


On November 21, 2008, Harrell Johnson was sentenced to life without parole.

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Montaldo, Charles. "The Beheading of 'Precious Doe'." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Montaldo, Charles. (2020, August 26). The Beheading of 'Precious Doe'. Retrieved from Montaldo, Charles. "The Beheading of 'Precious Doe'." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 12, 2021).